When will Spurs quit messing around and finally win something? That is the question flying around North London like an arrow aimed at Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham’s upper-management this week after the club fell out of both domestic cup competitions, succumbing to the injury crisis even the most optimistic Spurs fan figured would prove debilitating. It is a dumb question, to be sure, and Pochettino has shown admirable poise and humor in demonstrating precisely why applying a titles-or-bust standard to his team is so wrong-headed. But for as stupid as the question is, the impulse behind it speaks to a real feeling of dissatisfaction, or at least anticlimax, that is always at risk of taking over when dealing with a club apparently destined to only ever get close enough to smell, but never taste, real success.
Make no mistake: the most impressive feat of the Premier League’s past five years is Tottenham’s consistent presence near the very top of it. Leicester’s title in 2016 was the more unexpected result during that timespan (and indeed the most shocking of all time), but for as stunning as it was, clearly luck played as much a part of it as skill and savvy. Manchester City’s 100-point season last year, and the legitimate claim it had of being the single most dominant season in English soccer history, was the more awe-inspiring achievement, but a team that cost such an unbelievable amount of money to assemble should achieve unbelievable levels of success; plus, City’s relatively disappointing seasons before and after that one, and that it seems 90-plus point title runs are becoming the new norm in light of Liverpool’s current season and Chelsea’s 2017 title, somewhat limit the esteem of last year’s record-breaking victory.
That Pochettino’s Tottenham have finished fifth, third, second, and third in the table since he took over in 2014, with probably another top-four finish on the way, all while the club has been radically and regularly outspent by five other English teams, means their accomplishment stands right alongside or, I’d argue, sits atop those others. Like Arsène Wenger’s two-decade stretch of consecutive top-four finishes with Arsenal while getting vastly outspent for much of it, Tottenham’s recent run is the stuff of fairy tale. The only problem, as Wenger eventually found out, is if you string along a fairy tale without eventually getting to a happy ending, fans start to forget just how charmed life truly is.
Tottenham fans are right to pine for a major trophy as the pièce de résistance to what everyone recognizes has been a heroic feat. And Pochettino is right to reiterate time and again how next-to-impossible lifting a trophy of consequence actually is. What isn’t okay is how rival fans and people in the media—it seems to me that the vast majority of pundits shitting in their own hands and chucking the poop at Spurs for failing to win aren’t actually Tottenham supporters themselves—prattle on about DEMANDING Pochettino and his team achieve tangible success in the form of something shiny, lest they expose themselves as unambitious frauds. I’m certain that nobody in the world wants Tottenham to win something more than Pochettino himself; he just wants to win the right trophies, not just any old one. And he has internalized the reality that the best way to put the club in position to win something that matters is to keep them in the Champions League.
Had Tottenham overcame Chelsea in the League Cup semis and then done the same against Man City to win the title, it would’ve meant absolutely nothing. The League Cup is a garbage competition nobody actually cares about that should be abolished. Winning it would’ve done nothing for Spurs’ chances of success where it really counts, in the Prem and in the Champions League.
Winning the F.A. Cup would’ve felt a little better than lifting the League Cup, but not by all that much, and likewise wouldn’t have materially changed anything. Even more to the point, essentially sandbagging the competition by putting out a lineup consisting largely of reserve players—as Tottenham did last Sunday in their 2-0 F.A. Cup loss to Crystal Palace—to even incrementally improve the injury-rocked team’s odds of keeping hold of a place in the league table’s top four is unmistakably the correct decision. Tottenham can’t let the disingenuous voices from the outside that call for a hunk of silver at any cost distract them from the hard path toward meaningful success they’re currently on.
There is no guarantee Tottenham under Pochettino or anyone else will ever win that special piece of silverware that will feel like gold in their hands, and likely they never will. In fact, Spurs have probably already seen their best opportunity to hoist one of the big trophies slip away the year Leicester won. Realistically, Tottenham’s best hope is probably that Pochettino sticks around for a good while trying to mimic Wenger’s Arsenal tenure, keeping stalwarts like Harry Kane and Dele Alli along for a ride that includes more success along the lines of what he’s already brought, and then leaving for greener, better-monied pastures after a few more years, before his deservedly worshipped image is tarnished the way Wenger’s was there at the end. That would be a fitting, out-of-this-world-amazing journey for every Tottenham fan wise enough to bask in the miraculousness of their present reality instead of poisoning their minds with greedy hopes for the impossible.